Udana VI.4

Tittha Sutta

Various Sectarians (1)

Excerpted from

The Udana: Inspired Utterances of the Buddha,
translated from the Pali by John D. Ireland
(Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1997).
Copyright ©1997 Buddhist Publication Society.

and from a translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Thus have I heard. At one time the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi . . . At that time there were a number of priests and contemplatives, wanderers of various sects, living around Savatthi. And they were of various views, of various beliefs, of various opinions . . .

There were some priests and contemplatives who asserted and held this view: "The cosmos is eternal; only this is true, any other (view) is false." There were some priests and contemplatives who asserted: "The cosmos is not eternal; only this is true, any other (view) is false." There were some who asserted: "The cosmos is finite . . . The cosmos is infinite . . . The soul and the body are the same . . . The soul and the body are different . . . " And they lived quarrelsome, disputatious, and wrangling, wounding each other with verbal darts, saying: "The ultimate and transcendent truth is like this; The ultimate and transcendent truth is not like that! The ultimate and transcendent truth is not like this; The ultimate and transcendent truth is like that!"

One day, a number of monks, having put on their robes in the forenoon and taken their bowls and outer cloaks, entered Savatthi for almsfood. Having walked in Savatthi for almsfood and returned after the meal, they approached the Blessed One, prostrated themselves, sat down to one side, and said to the Blessed One: "At present, revered sir, there are a number of priests and contemplatives, wanderers of various sects, living around Savatthi. And they are of various views . . . saying: 'The ultimate and transcendent truth is like this! . . . The ultimate and transcendent truth is like that!'"

"Monks, the wanderers of other sects are blind, unseeing. They do not know what is beneficial, they do not know what is harmful. They do not know what is the ultimate and transcendent truth, they do not know what is not the ultimate and transcendent truth. Not knowing what is beneficial and what is harmful, not knowing what is the ultimate and transcendent truth and what is not the ultimate and transcendent truth, they are quarrelsome... saying: 'The ultimate and transcendent truth is like this!... The ultimate and transcendent truth is like that!'

"Once there was a certain king in this very Savatthi. And that king addressed a man: 'Come now, my good man, bring together all those persons in Savatthi who have been blind from birth.'

"'Yes, your majesty,' that man replied, and after gathering together all the blind people in Savatthi, he approached the king and said, 'All the blind people in Savatthi have been brought together, your majesty.'

"'Now, my man, show the blind people an elephant.'

"'Very well, your majesty,' the man replied to the king, and he presented an elephant to the blind people, saying, 'This, blind people, is an elephant.'

"To some of the blind people he presented the head of the elephant, saying, 'This is an elephant.' To some he presented an ear of the elephant, saying, 'This is an elephant.' To some he presented a tusk... the trunk... the body... the foot... the hindquarters... the tail... the tuft at the end of the tail, saying, 'This is an elephant.'

"Then, monks, the man, having shown the elephant to the blind people, went to the king and said, 'The blind people have been shown the elephant, your majesty. Do now what you think is suitable.' Then the king approached those blind people and said, 'Have you been shown the elephant?'

"'Yes, your majesty, we have been shown the elephant.'

"'Tell me, blind people, what is an elephant like?'

"Those blind people who had been shown the head of the elephant replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a water jar.' Those blind people who had been shown the ear of the elephant replied. "An elephant, your majesty, is just like a winnowing basket.' Those blind people who had been shown the tusk of the elephant replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a plowshare.' Those blind people who had been shown the trunk replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a plow pole.' Those blind people who had been shown the body replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a storeroom.' Those blind people who had been shown the foot replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a post.' Those blind people who had been shown the hindquarters replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a mortar.' Those blind people who had been shown the tail replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a pestle.' Those blind people who had been shown the tuft at the end of the tail replied, 'An elephant, your majesty, is just like a broom.'

"Saying 'An elephant is like this, an elephant is not like that! An elephant is not like this, an elephant is like that!' they fought each other with their fists. And the king was delighted (with the spectacle).

"Even so, monks, are those wanderers of various sects blind, unseeing . . . saying, "The ultimate and transcendent truth is like this! . . . The ultimate and transcendent truth is like that!'"

Then, on realizing its significance, the Blessed One uttered on that occasion this inspired utterance:

Some priests and contemplatives,
Are deeply attached to their own views;
People who only see one side of things
Engage in quarrels and disputes
.

       The Blind Men
     and the Elephant

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

 

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

 

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

 

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“ ‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

 

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

 

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!